Friday, September 7, 2007

How to Fry Cheese

Fried cheese. A recipe invented on the spot by yours truly.

• Select a medium hard cheese. Good examples are Cheddar, firm Mozzarella, Swiss, and Gouda.
- Avoid soft cheeses like Havarti or fresh Mozzarella because of their liquid content--they take much longer to fry and are much more messy.
- Avoid really hard cheeses like Parmesan because they don't melt very well.
• Cut some slices of your selected cheese(s) approximately 1/8th inch thick (3 mm). You can use thicker slices but it will just take longer and will spread out in the pan anyway.
• Put some slices in a frying pan and fry them at medium to high heat. Don't use any cooking oil at all. Adjust heat so frying doesn't go too slowly but you are not getting to unnecessarily high temperatures. Signs of being too hot (much too hot, turn it down!) are smoking, uneven browning, and crackling oil.
• Your fried cheese is ready when it is browned and has hardened some. It is kind of like bacon, being edible from fairly soft through ultra crunchy, and it all depends on personal taste. The cheese when it cools will be harder than when you take it out of the pan. You can get fried cheese to become extremely hard and crunchy if you keep it going long enough (harder than I like).
• Use a spatula to remove the fried cheese to paper towels on a plate and blot away excess oil.
• Eat.

When cheese is fried it goes through some recognizable stages:
• Melting and spreading out
• Bubbling and giving off liquid/oil
• Browning

If you fry a lot of cheese at once, the oil it gives off will slow the frying process. Either fry in small amounts or be ready with a paper towel to blot up oil from the edges of the pan. If you try to blot the cheese directly, you'll just get gooey cheese stuck to the paper.

I don't fry cheese by itself very often. More often, I intentionally put extra cheese in a grilled cheese sandwich or a quesadilla, or I am deliberately uncareful when sprinkling cheese over food so some lands on the pan directly. Depending on the space in the pan and the amount and type of cheese, blotting up excess oil is often mandatory (and helpful to prevent sogging the food). One ends up with a corona of fried cheese stuck to the outside of the item. Yum.

Another way to get fried cheese is to put a slice or sprinkle shredded cheese on the top of a quesadilla or sandwich. Use a lid on the pan to help melt the cheese that's inside and on top. When you flip the sandwich, the melted cheese will fry now that it's on the bottom. It's best to do it on only one side so you still have an ungreasy side for eating purposes, but I have done it on both sides before and it can be good.

When frying cheese together with other food, make sure to use a lower temperature than with cheese alone so nothing burns. Using a lid helps get the temperature up faster and keeps the temperature more even, and by retaining moisture helps prevent the food from drying out. If you experiment you can find the right fairly low temperature where the cheese will eventually fry wonderfully and nothing burns, and you can walk away and do something else for 15 minutes. Be sure to check back often until you are experienced with the stove and pan you're using.

I think that mixing several kinds of cheese yields the best flavor. Grate several cheeses and place in a large ziploc bag. Inflate the bag and seal it. Shake and "roll" the bag to mix the cheeses together. Voila!

If you don't like the flavor of cheese you won't like fried cheese, because frying intensifies the flavor. On the other hand, if you don't like the texture of cheese, frying changes the texture, so you may like fried cheese even though you don't like plain or melted cheese.

Note: It is best when cooking to cook at the lowest temperature that gets the job done. If you want to brown something, do it at the end if possible, with the majority of the cooking done at a lower temperature. The reason for this is that heat damages food, and the higher the heat, the more damage is done.

High heat:
• creates carcinogens,
• creates trans fats,
• generally breaks down and alters proteins and other parts of the food.

350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 C) is one number I seem to remember from my reading about a good goal temperature for keeping food below, where the damage really starts to occur above that.

If you don't know about trans fats, briefly, they interfere with the body's ability to render carcinogens harmless. They also get integrated into cell walls and throughout the body but have the wrong permeability (and that is a Bad Thing). And the body can't distinguish between trans fats and regular saturated fats so they go everywhere and they stick around. And unlike other health topics where there is disagreement, everyone agrees that there is no safe level of trans fat consumption except zero.

Beware of products that tout "0 grams of trans fat per serving" or even simply "0 grams of trans fat." This means they can have up to 1/2 a gram per serving. If a serving size is 20 grams, that could be 2.5% trans fat!

Cheese is healthier than many people believe because, coming from animal fat, it is higher in saturated fats, which are more resistant to denaturing due to heat, light, and time. The last thing you want to do is deep fry in highly unsaturated (vegetable) oil because you'll be creating carcinogens and trans fats right and left. French fries cooked in vegetable oil are one of the worst foods you could ever eat. At the end of the day, the oil in a fast food's french fry fryer can be more than 30 percent trans. Yuck! If you're going to fry, do it in butter, tropical oils like coconut or palm, or animal fat such as beef tallow. The food will not only be less greasy, but it will taste better. I fry in coconut oil all the time and the food doesn't taste coconutty.

I think I'll post about oils some time and try to cover all this stuff in more detail.


s.j.simon said...

:) did you know how cheese was invented? It wasnt necessity, it was an accident, read this

Solana said...

Well said.

ESquared said...

Thanks! On rereading I'd like to add: really hard mozzarella like that in cheese sticks will melt but takes much longer because of the lower water content. But you may like that—cheese sticks get soft and start to spread out a little before they get all gooey, so you can melt them directly in the pan and then put them onto something with less mess.

Anonymous said...

Can I bake/broil it and get the same effect...why does it stick to my pan?

ESquared said...

I'm sure that you can bake or broil it. There may be slightly different concerns as the heat is applied in a different manner. For baking I'd be worried about drying it out too much, and for broiling I'd be concerned about it burning.

In regards to sticking to the pan, I'm surprised because the cheese as it melts provides its own oil. You could try a nonstick pan or a cast-iron pan, which would probably be less likely to stick than a stainless steel pan.